As I was riding the subway to a running race early one Saturday morning, a homeless man sitting across me from me decided to strike up a chat. Morning communication is not one of my strengths so I really wasn’t in the mood but I reluctantly joined. There was nobody else within a reasonable distance, I was alone and he looked harmless enough. I really couldn’t find an excuse to be rude.
He opened with the inquiry “Why is there a number pinned to your shirt?”
It wasn’t the brightest question since I was clothed in running attire and holding a water bottle so at first I felt no duty to dignify it with a factual answer. My initial urge was to sing the words “American Idol tryouts!”
Alas, that thought led me to questioning my integrity about reaching a point in life where I received pleasure from mocking a homeless man. My conscience persuaded me otherwise and I truthfully answered “I was off to Central Park for a 5k race.”
It was only a few miles of running but he seemed quite impressed and responded “Wow, I wish I could do something like that. That’s amazing.”
That seemed to satisfy his curiosity and he began to relax back into his seat. To my surprise, halfway through that process he jolted back with pure enthusiasm. A revolutionary idea must have clicked in his head and with a big smile he asked “You wanna know the best feeling in the world?”
While I was slightly apprehensive to learn his greatest joy, he seemed genuinely excited to share and there was still plenty of time left in my ride. I was clueless as to what was going to come out of his mouth and that also aided me into saying “Please tell.”
He announced “A lot of times I wake up in the morning unsure of where I am but if I find food in my pockets, it makes me so happy and I know it will be a great day.” He then opened a bag of gumdrops freshly pulled from his pockets and offered me a handful.
Despite it being a bit gross and a peculiar breakfast meal, it was the sweetest thing I have ever witnessed. A stranger with far less in his life invited me to join in on their favorite moment.
I was tempted to pick out a green one because I didn’t want him to feel his food was inferior. Then I realized I’d never appreciate eating (or possibly fake eating) any piece of the candy more than he would. With a heartfelt grin, I told him “Thank you very much but I am not really hungry.”
After a few silent minutes of watching him enjoy his snack, my stop approached. I stood up and said “Thank you again, it meant a lot to me that you would offer.” I then handed him the $20 bill I always carry to races in case of an emergency and I thought to myself, maybe my trip home will be slower now but at least I have one to go to.
He looked shocked as he accepted it and I’m hoping it’s because he never once asked for anything besides conversation.
As I exited, he wished me good luck in the race and to have a Merry Christmas……. Okay those last 4 words are false since this actually occurred a few months ago. He wasn’t a lunatic and referenced Christmas mid-September. I admit my original scheme was trying to cheat this essay into the giving season and New Year's but I felt dirty lying around the holidays. The truth is, he said “Happy Labor Day”……..
Anyway, reflecting back on this piece, it has been selfishly written. It’s made me look at the bigger picture in life and become aware that I am not the only one with problems. Everyone has them and a lot of them are a hell of a lot worse than mine. It’s not always the situation to blame, its how it’s dealt with. In 2013 I’m spending more time eating gumdrops and I invite everyone who reads this to join.